This is a bonus from today's St. Louis Game Time Paper - which, as you all obviously know, you need to buy a copy of at 14tth and Clark tonight starting at 5:30. Tip your vendors, people.
Thank you to Blair Johnson!
Mark my words: Cinco de Mayo a las 7:00 Centro marks the most-dangerous contest in which Ken Hitchcock’s club will compete this season. And by "will compete" I mean should compete.
While I would like to channel my inner Drunk Girl and touch myself (with high frequency) to the stats page from Tuesday night’s tilt, I fear this game more than any of the seven from round one.
Let’s face it: The Chicago Blackhawks bring all of the fear and intimidation to the table. They’re well-coached, speedy, and have many a set of great hands. Not many among the loyal Note supporters thought St. Louis would survive the Quarters, even when the pros told us early and often the Blues would win it in seven.
Now here they are: headed in to their first post-first-round-win contest in almost 15 years.
David slew Goliath, and the immediate feeling after the first contest of round two looked dark.
It looked dismal.
It looked dubious.
All of the here-we-gos bubbled right to the surface.
Then the captain made a sly move and readied himself with cunning promptness.
After taking Game Two, the St. Louis Blues fan base fastened their The Truman Show buttons to their sweaters: How’s it going to end?
The toxicity of Tuesday night wrote itself into recipe form.
Heavy doses of scoring. Heaping teaspoons of confidence. Several handfuls of flair.
Even a little sprinkle of swagger (to taste, of course).
If you didn’t feel it, though…if the thought did not occur to you that something seemed off then I question the legitimacy of your Blue blood.
This hockey team does not put six tallies on the board. They just don’t. Like, ever.
They don’t display that kind of firepower often and they in no shape -- regardless of the resilience they possess, don’t fall behind one goal and ring off half a dozen unanswered.
No, something tainted the water.
Look at the previous pages of the St. Louis Game Time veterans. Patrik Berglund and Jay Bouwmeester made the score sheet. Those two resident sitting ducks have lended themselves to scapegoat status (given the perpetual absence of Magnus Paajarvi).
We’ve come to expect monster efforts from Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo. We’ve grown accustomed to the Troy Brouwers, the Robby Fabbris, and the Carl Gunnarssons earning the occasional point.
To have, however, a two-goal effort from David Backes, the potential reawakening of Vladimir Tarasenko, the effort from Paul Stastny, and yet another monster game from Jaden Schwartz all happen in the same three-period stretch suggests that, you know: Denmark’s got something rotten in it.
Blues fans waited 10 games for this club to play a complete game and I would argue that that wait has yet to conclude.
You see, a lot of this five-goal deficit falls on Dallas Stars Head Coach Lindy Ruff.
He took a calculated gamble in Game Two by sending Antti Niemi out for the second and third periods after Kari Lehtonen gave up three goals on five shots in the first.
The Texas bench boss platooned the two netminders for much of the regular season; both proved their numbers worthy of the nod on any given evening.
So he had that card in his back pocket.
He could’ve pulled it out in Game Four or maybe even Six, but he made like the late Widespread Panic guitarist Michael Houser and blew his load too soon.
I mean, it worked. It got the Stars’ skaters’ attention and they clamped down on D enough to prevent any more biscuits in the basket before bonus hockey got underway.
One analytical angle, then, suggests that you run Niemi out there for the third game; you play the hot hand.
This, however, I call a mistake.
You made the choice to open the series with Lehtonen in the crease, and he got you the Game One win. He gets the start -- regardless of Niemi’s successful spelling -- until goaltending is costing you wins.
St. Louis didn’t find twine early in Game Two because Lehtonen flailed. They got some bounces. They caught some breaks. They made a couple of plays to set up a chance or two and they capitalized.
Much of the conversation regarding this series has centered on identity.
Everyone knows that of the Stars, and over here in Bluesland, we think we’ve come to terms with what it looks like for the Note. We’ve just needed complete execution.
You can’t mess with the nine-tenths-complete sense of self that comprises the Dallas Stars by making multiple drastic goalie switches this early in a series. You just can’t.
Ruff made a mistake by starting Niemi Tuesday night and the mistake had little to do with the netminder’s performance. The Dallas coach could’ve absolved his own error by keeping Niemi in net and forcing his skaters to try and -- for lack of a better phrase -- bail his goalie out of the jam. Instead, he gassed that fire and ran Lehtonen out there, undoing the fix he used too early in a spot in the series where the stakes didn’t warrant the move.
All that said: The Stars -- even with all of their youth -- have enough veteran wit throughout their roster to overcome their coach’s mistakes. They can make like liquid nitrogen and reassemble the intimidating T2.
That’s why tonight’s game looks like the steel-toothed clamp in the woods camouflaged by leaves, the sexy sandwich beneath the box propped up by a stick-tied string.
If the Blues take the ice thinking they’ve got some ground in this war, they’ll get smoked.
No doubt about it.
They need to come hard, come often, and come with a purpose if they’re expecting to roll into Dallas on Saturday with a two-game lead.
If ever a time to show your identity existed, that time comes tonight at Scottrade.